A great new interview

I’m pleased to share this great interview of me about my art by Creative Catalyst Productions! They asked me some challenging and refreshing questions that I had to put some thought into. A big “thank you!” to the folks for seeking me out for this opportunity!

IG promo-DeniseJHoward

You can follow Creative Catalyst on Facebook for more insightful interviews of artists about their creative process.

I’m not that Denise Howard

Over the past few weeks I’ve received several email inquiries asking if I’m “the Denise Howard who advertised for an art assistant.” I’m certainly not.

I know I’m not the only Denise Howard in the world, so I can understand how this would happen; if I was someone who saw the ad and was possibly interested, the first thing I’d do is google “Denise Howard artist” to see what information comes up. It so happens that everything that comes up is indeed about me–there’s nothing about any Denise Howard artist in Harrisburg, PA, where the ad originated.

After a few of these inquiries, I tracked down the ad in question, got the email address from it (a Gmail account; I don’t have a Gmail account) and sent a message to it. I got no response. The ad has since expired and disappeared and doesn’t seem to have been repeated. However, yesterday the story seems to have taken a more alarming turn: I received a message from someone as follows:

Ms. Howard, I believe there is a scam going around attaching itself to your name. They claim to be hiring a business assistant and then attempt to open a bank account in your own name. If this is in fact not a scam I apologize for bothering you. However, it seemed suspicious to me.

I thanked this person for alerting me, and urged them to contact the police if this happened to them, and make sure they understand it’s not me. I also contacted Google.

I’m writing this post so that if you’re another person wondering if the ad was mine, you’ll hopefully see this and know that not only was it not mine but that you probably shouldn’t respond to it.

Followup 8/30/2018: Today I received a message from a PNC Financial Services representative:

I wanted to thank you for your Blog about the personal assistant job offer in Harrisburg PA. I had a customer come in yesterday to open an account. I was able to stop her from being scammed because of your blog. Thanks so much!

Followup 9/5/2018: Today one of the potential victims provided me with a copy of the “employment contract” she received from “my” attorney. I did some research and called the CEO of the law firm. It turns out their corporate identity is being defrauded, too. Neither the email nor the contract shows the firm’s logo or address; they are a real estate law firm; they don’t do business in Pennsylvania; it is from someone who doesn’t work at the firm; and the email address it was sent from ends in .org.

Furthermore, the CEO recalled attending a scam-awareness presentation in which this very scenario was described: people are asked to open bank accounts or provide theirs. This gives scammers a way to route smaller sums of money around so as not to attract attention the way that large sums would. If the victims get wise, they attack the unwitting and surprised identity theft victim (in this case, me), not the real criminal. It’s a win-win for the scammer.

I have filed a complaint with the FBI.

Preventing artist injuries

This week I learned that THREE fellow colored pencil artists who draw a lot have been forced away from their drawing tables indefinitely by wrist, elbow and shoulder overuse injuries. In addition to the total ban on drawing, their doctors have told them to avoid all typing and wear splints. It’s making them very unhappy. A fourth artist friend is pushing on due to a deadline and figures she’ll take a short break when it’s past, and I fear she’ll end up joining them.

You might not think of drawing as a strenuous, injury-causing activity. But any activity that involves long periods in the same posture, making the same movements over and over, can lead to repetitive stress injuries such as tendonitis, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, pinched nerves, and more. Potters, painters, illustrators, sculptors, digital artists and even tattoo artists are all at risk. Such injuries are sneaky; they develop very slowly and may already be bad before the first symptoms of tingling fingers, numbness, or reduced grip strength. Recovery usually requires complete cessation of the activities that caused the issue, and can take months, sometimes years.

So how do you prevent such injuries? There are entire books devoted to the subject, but here are a few tidbits that every artist should take to heart:

  • Take frequent breaks. Everyone is different, but for me, ten minutes every hour is about right. This does NOT mean “work for six hours and then take an hour break”!
  • During those breaks, stand up, move around, go for a walk, look out the window, do some simple stretches and exercises.


    I didn’t write this, it was a handout given at an art supply store. I keep it posted over my desk!

  • Work with as vertical a surface as you can, so you’re not hunched or bowed over a table. This will prevent neck, shoulder and upper back problems.
  • If you sit at a drawing table, use an adjustable-height chair that provides good lumbar support and allows your feet to be flat on the floor.
  • Use good lighting. Yes, your eyes can sustain long-term injury, too, because they are also operated by muscles! Full-spectrum lights, positioned to fully illuminate your work area without any glare, will help prevent eyestrain.
  • Get regular exercise. Getting your heart pounding, sweating a little, gulping in some fresh air and moving your body will boost your creativity, too! Vigorous hikes in nature are my favorite way to accomplish this.Here’s a personal anecdote to illustrate the power of exercise to combat chronic repetitive stress injury. This happened about 15 years ago when I taught group fitness classes as my “hobby job”. There was a guy who always attended the yoga class right before my interval training class. One day he stayed for my class. He looked kinda pissed off the whole time, but he finished the hour. I figured I’d never see him again. But he came back, and he kept coming back, always looking a little angry, never saying a word. After about a year and a half, one day he approached me at the end of class and said that my class had done wonders for him. He said he’d suffered with wrist, elbow and shoulder problems for years, had to wear wrist splints all the time at work, had been to multiple therapists, etc. But the interval training, with sets of just 12 repetitions of various dumbbell exercises between the work intervals, had somehow done the trick. He started with 1 lb. weights because that was all his wrists could stand, and now he was up to 12 lb. weights and didn’t need his splints at work anymore. I was blown away, and grateful that he shared his success to which I had unknowingly contributed!
  • Listen to your body. If you do start feeling tingling or numbness or pain in fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, or upper back, stop what you’re doing and see your doctor. I’m serious. Your body is telling you that you’ve gone too far. These are not related to the discomfort you get from using too heavy a dumbbell for bicep curls, which goes away in 72 hours or so. Tingling and numbness usually signify that nerves are getting pinched by inflammation.

Finally, here are some links to further information to help you understand how to make your drawing activity more comfortable and less hurtful in the long run:

Ergonomics for Artists

Working Posture for Craftsmen

Paul Fricke (cartoonist) blog post on ergonomics for artists

Setting up an ergonomic chair

What makes a chair ergonomic

I hope this helps prevent the list of my artist friends who are out of commission from overuse injuries from getting longer!

Crayolas, childhood desires, and why you should graduate to better art supplies

This is two stories in one, and it began with a trip to the grocery store this week. I stumbled across the “school and office supplies” section, and staring me in the face was a set of 96 Crayola crayons for $7.97. I almost bought it.

You see, when I was a little girl, every August when Mom bought me new school supplies for the year, I begged for a big set of Crayolas. She insisted that a set of 24 colors was enough, so that’s all I ever got. I watched with envy as some of my classmates–whose families were no better off than ours–showed up on the first day of school with the 48 box, or even the gigantic 64 box with built-in sharpener. I watched in dismay when they carelessly broke or dropped colors that I’d never have–if those were mine, that wouldn’t happen! Oh what I could’ve done with all those strange and wonderful hues which went unappreciated by their owners, who mostly stuck to the basics. For them, a set of 24 really would’ve been enough.

Of course I eventually outgrew crayons, as we all do. I learned how to use many other media in art classes in high school and college. I forgot all about Crayolas. Until this week’s trip to the grocery store. There it was, all 64 colors I’d always wanted, plus 32 more! What magical hues could they be? Would they have that familiar and comforting waxy smell that I remember? Would they be any good? I almost bought the set, but put it back on the shelf as I imagined Mom’s oh-so-practical advice in my head, “You don’t need those. Save the $8 to buy something you need.”


The set that I almost bought in the grocery store.

I posted a photo of the box on the shelf to Facebook. To my surprise and amusement, some of my friends confessed they had similar experiences when they were a kid, and bought those objects of desire as an adult just because they could, and were glad they did. One friend pointed out that the largest set of Crayolas is now 152, for only $14.88. Another suggested I should go buy it to satisfy my old want and then donate it to a needy child. So last night, I did it. I bought the biggest honkin’ set there is. I opened it up, inhaled and smiled–they smelled exactly as I remembered. I enjoyed looking at all the fabulous colors and their creative names, like “macaroni and cheese”, “cotton candy”, and “shamrock”. The kid in me excitedly said “MINE MINE MINE!” and I was satisfied.



Here’s where the second story begins.

Today I got the Crayolas out to see how well they work. My brain was whirling with ideas for how I might use them for a painting that was a commentary on my childhood desire. I pulled six crayons at random and made blurry blobs to find out what range of pressure I needed to get from a whisper of color to a solid color. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Although the colors look very strong in the crayon, when applied to paper they are pretty washed out, and even with quite a bit of pressure applied, I got more blobby wax without much more color. There were crumbs.

Out of curiosity, I pulled out my 120 set of Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble wax pastels. They are basically adult artist’s crayons; they have far more pigment saturation, and a much higher price.  (The 84 set retails for $230.) I picked out approximately the same colors based on the crayons’ appearance, and repeated the exercise.

Wow! What a difference! The Neocolor II crayons required almost no pressure, and quickly created lush, saturated, solid color. Very little crayon was needed, and there were no crumbs. Here they all are, on Canson XL Mix Media paper. (By the way, the Neocolors were already dull from use before this exercise.)


Top, Crayolas: Manatee, Wisteria, Fuchsia, Wild Watermelon, Jungle Green, Cerulean.           Bottom, Neocolor IIs: Payne’s Grey, Mauve, Purple, Raspberry Red, Greenish Blue, Pthalocyanine Blue.

But wait, there’s more! Neocolor IIs are also water-soluble, so they’re more versatile than mere crayons. You can use them like watercolors or as an underpainting for other media. And since they’re waxy, they also respond to heat, which makes it easy to create painterly effects as they become buttery.


The Neocolor II areas dissolved with a little water

Although I didn’t set out to do this, the lesson is clear: you get what you pay for. If you’re trying to get better at your art and you’re frustrated with the results you’re getting even though you’re pretty sure you’re following all the instruction you’ve picked up from books, videos, classes or workshops, it’s time to take a hard look at your materials. Cheap is fine for getting started when you don’t know whether that medium is for you, but as you get better you should consider “graduating” to better-quality materials. Yes, they cost more (sometimes a lot more), but generally they go farther so you’ll need less of them, and their quality is higher so you’ll be much happier with how they work. This is true not only for consumables like paint, pencils, paper and canvas, but also things like brushes and easels. Take the time to do enough research to buy the best quality supplies you can afford.

What’s next for my big set of 152 Crayolas? Well, I’ve also learned that they’re not lightfast, which means they’ll all fade away or change color when exposed to light over time. So I’ll keep them for a few months, occasionally open the box to smell them, and donate them to a needy child come Christmas. There will be one less kid who grows up wishing Mom would buy him/her the big set.




Kyo Gallery representation

I’m happy to announce I have a new gallery relationship: Kyo Gallery in Old Town Alexandria, VA, in the Washington, D.C. area! My Don’t Take the Bridge is consigned with them, and it will be included in their inaugural exhibition Through Art: Resist & Recover.

Kyo Gallery Grand Opening Reception Evite

Dont Take the Bridge

Don’t Take the Bridge, 12″x16″, colored pencil on UART 600 paper. Available at Kyo Gallery, http://www.kyogallery.com

I decided this piece of mine was the closest to the show theme symbolically.

You might wonder how I happened to connect with a gallery 3,000 miles away…. They found me, thanks to my website! After they approached me via email, I asked a friend who lives near there to check them out for me and make sure they’re legit. I think it’s safe to say we’re both trying each other out, and if all goes well I’ll have more of my original work available at Kyo Gallery in the future.

If you’re in the DC area on May 25, go check out the grand opening and take photos for me!

Workshop over-preparation pays off

I just realized it’s been 2.5 months since my last blog post–whew, the time has flown! I was busy preparing for my first workshop of the year, “Textures Galore in Colored Pencil”, which I finally taught last weekend, April 14-15, for CPSA DC210 San Jose.

I’m not one of those people who can just walk into a room and talk off-the-cuff at length; as an introvert who was terrified of speaking in front of a group most of my life, I agonize for weeks over the outline, the details, the examples, the choice of words, the exercises, the packet contents, everything. Over-preparation is the best antidote to performance anxiety. And besides, I want so much for my students to learn, understand, improve, and have fun!

So I spent a long time writing and organizing all the information that I wanted my workshop students to know, with examples and reference photos, so they wouldn’t have to take notes. I finally decided to hire a layout designer to make an 8-page booklet out of it, and had copies for everyone professionally printed. I’m really glad I did. It saved me the time and effort of printing 160 pages one by one on my little printer, dealing with paper jams, ink cartridges, etc., and it looks soooo much better on heavier, satin-finished paper with a saddle stitch binding.

I also made a long checklist of everything I could possibly need during the two days, and didn’t cross things off until they were packed in my bin. Because yes, there was once a workshop where I forgot to take my reading glasses, and yes, there was once a workshop where I forgot to take the drawing paper for everyone! Talk about panic…..

It all came together, and it was a terrific workshop weekend! We had participants from as far away as San Clemente and Lompoc. Since the focus was on textures, I brought several samples from my collection, and as a homework assignment I asked everyone to bring in an interesting texture of their own, so we had quite an assortment to talk about.

Chapter Vice President Peggy Milovena-Meyer volunteered her husband to do A/V for us, so we had a kickass setup with a sound system, a cordless mic, and an HD camera focused on my drawing board and projecting to a gigantic TV screen on the wall behind me. The system even enabled us to have streaming music during breaks and long drawing sessions!


Over the course of writing 101 Textures in Colored Pencil, there were quite a few textures that I’d never drawn before, so I had to figure them out. What I learned from that experience was that through close observation, not just looking but seeing, analyzing, determining which techniques and tools might work, and only then drawing, I could successfully render just about anything. So that’s exactly what we practiced with a few exercises.


To put it all together on the afternoon of day two, each student got a slice of an image with multiple textures to figure out on their own, and at 3:45 we put them together. We sure could’ve used another hour! Here’s one group’s….


Big, big thanks go to CPSA DC210 San Jose President Paula Greer for inviting me to teach the workshop, to Peggy Milovena-Meyer for making coffee and lunch runs and contributing her husband Brad for his A/V skills, to Maria Lemery for finding the great venue, and to all the cheerful students who spent their time, energy and money to be there. Y’all are terrific!


Two big awards to start 2018!

It’s only February 1 and already my work has won two significant awards for 2018!

My Faith’s End was awarded First Place in the 2017 UART Paper Online Colored Pencil Competition. (Yes, 2017–the announcement was delayed until after the first of the year 2018.) Entries for this show needed to be created on UART paper, which is a sanded paper favored by pastel artists that is also becoming popular with colored pencil artists. It comes in several “grits”, from 240 (which is very rough), to 800 (which is almost satiny). I was already a fan of this paper and have done several pieces on it, so it was a no-brainer for me to enter something in the biennial competition. I just didn’t expect to win the top award! Faith’s End holds a double meaning with a powerful message, which I think the juror, CPSA founder Vera Curnow, totally got.

Faith's End

Faith’s End, 12″ x 16″, colored pencil on UART 600 paper

The First Place award package (and what a package it was, on my doorstep!) included $700, a full set of 150 Prismacolors, a $75 gift card for Blick Art Materials, four packages of UART paper, a six month subscription to Colored Pencil Magazine, a T-shirt, and a bibbed apron.

My Ready for Winter was awarded the Chartpak Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Colored Pencil Society of America’s Explore This! 14. Entries for this show needed to be primarily colored pencil, but include other media, or be done on a non-traditional surface, or otherwise have some aspect that makes it ineligible for the CPSA International Exhibition. The show is online from February 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018. See all the outstanding award winners here. The accepted pieces and award winners were selected by juror Mar Hollingsworth, Visual Arts Curator of the California African American Museum, from over 260 entries. See the whole show here. It seems to me to be a very strong show, so I’m humbled to have been selected.


Ready for Winter, 12″ x 16″, colored pencil, ink, and gouache on Stonehenge paper.

Last year, I didn’t even get into this show! There’s a different juror every year, so it goes to show that you shouldn’t let rejection deter you from entering a show again.

The award is for $600 of Chartpak products. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble using it up, since Chartpak is the company that owns the brands Koh-I-Noor, Schmincke, Higgins, and Grumbacher.

It’s an exciting start to the year!